Frederick Douglass

View by Horace Seldon

Readers who have read the numerous sources which analyze the relationship of Garrison and Douglass, will expect a wide range of references to Douglass in the Liberator.  Those references begin early in the life of the newly freed man.  This essay does not intend or pretend to comment on the much-debated relationship and split between Douglass and Garrison.  Here is a simple record of the relationship, represented by entries in the Liberator.  It is hoped to contribute some understanding to the conversation.

At an early State House Anti-Slavery Meeting, where several well-known speakers were heard, the Liberator commented that Douglass gave “perhaps the best speech of the evening”. In addition, he amused the crowd by imitating the southern style of preaching to the slaves.

An early evidence of the relationship of the two men was reported with reference to a letter which Douglass wrote to Garrison, with news of a New Bedford meeting, with comment on the George Latimer case, which was stirring antislavery concern in Boston.

The Liberator provided its readers with a notice that the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was ready for publication. The notice indicated that the author was highly admired, and widely known, and “does not need extensive commendation”. Reference was also made to the enhancement of the work by Garrison’s preface.

When Douglass was in the United Kingdom, there was a movement from leaders in Scotland to provide funds which were to secure legal emancipation for Douglass, so that he might return to the United States without fear. The Liberator called attention to that effort.  Clearly any regular reader would have known that many abolitionists, Garrison among them, felt that any action to buy freedom for a former slave was tantamount to acknowledging the rights of slave owning.   In the article Garrison indicated that he would contribute to the fund, but then went to some pains to indicate that his action did not in any way acknowledge such owner rights. Previously Garrison had been so adamantly against such efforts, that today’s reader might well wonder at the justification he gave in this article.

When Douglass returned to the United States, in 1847, several items in the Liberator told of the farewell in London, the safe arrival at home, and the reception at the Belknap Street church, in the community.  There was also a separate account of the discrimination Douglass had suffered on board the British ship Cambria, when he was refused the berth that he had purchased.  One comment was that Douglass’s bank notes were not black, noting “that there was no aristocracy in bank notes”.

In the same year a letter to Garrison, from Robert Lockhart, in Scotland, was reported in the Liberator.  The writer told of the attempt to raise money to make it possible for Douglass to establish a newspaper, “to be conducted by colored people alone”.  The letter suggested that the paper should be called Cambria, “in consequence of the disgraceful treatment received by our brother from the agent of that vessel…”  This effort, reported from Scotland, was precursor of the later break in the relationship between the two abolitionists.

In July of 1847 the Liberator carried reference to a letter from Douglass to Garrison.  According to this article Douglass expressed a belief that the “time had arrived” when a press under the control of colored person would be useful.  Then Douglass wrote, according to this account:  “Since my return home, three newspapers under the management of colored persons have sprung into existence, and believing that these will be sufficient to accomplish a good which I sought, I have with some reluctance given up my intention of publishing a paper for the present.”

Quickly, Isaac Stearns wrote to Garrison, and his letter appeared in the Liberator.

He was sorry that Douglass had given up the idea, and urged that abolitionists encourage Douglass to proceed, arguing in part that even though there were four papers conducted by colored men, “not one of them is published in New England”.

The discussion continued in the Liberator.  A letter from Douglass expressed concern that some people had been unkind in claiming that Garrison had pressured his decision not to begin a new paper, and he assured all that “in this matter, I have acted independently, and wholly on my own responsibility”. In a lengthy response Garrison raised many questions about the necessity, practicality, and vision of such a paper as that which was proposed for Douglass.

The controversy over the paper for Douglass continued. Liberator readers were told that while Garrison and Douglass were on a lecture tour together, they were met with rotten eggs in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  “This is pitiful business, helping abolition more than it injures its representatives personally.”

Douglass, in the North Star, came to the defense of Garrison’s Liberator once when some critics at a Boston fair claimed that its organizers played into the hands of the Beacon street aristocracy.  The words of Douglass were reported in the Liberator.  Douglass was quoted:  “Where has aristocracy, cotton-ocracy or slave-ocracy received more faithful rebukes, within the last few weeks, than in the Liberator, of Boston?”

The two leaders agreed  that it was folly to support giving money to provide for copies of the Bible to be distributed to slaves.  A reader here will find that on one occasion, in the Liberator, Douglass wrote that rather than absorbing “energy and money to give the slave the Bible, money would be better used “in giving him (the slave) to himself”.

After four editions of the Star had appeared, in early 1948, the Liberator included a complimentary and encouraging article.  “The facility with which Mr. Douglass has adapted himself to his new and responsible situation is another proof of his genius, and worthy of special praise.”   Then, in a sentence which may be read as condescending, Garrison wrote that the Star surpassed “that of any other paper every published by a colored man”.

While Douglass and Garrison were together on a lecture tour, the Liberator included an article from an Ohio paper which poured hatred on the two.  It professed that Garrison “better be at home tending to his business, if he has any”, and that Douglass “ought to go to Mississippi or Louisiana and hire himself out to a cotton or sugar planter”.  Stephen Foster, also on the tour, was given similar treatment.

In the September 22, 1848 issue of the Liberator, the remarkable letter from Douglass to his former master, Thomas Auld, was published.  In that letter Douglass told Auld that he would continue to hold him up as an example of the evil of slavery; he also invited Auld to visit him, assuring no personal malice, and that Auld would be well treated, as an example of how men ought to treat one another.  Douglass closed his letter to Auld by writing, “I am your fellow man, but not your slave”.

In the same fall of 1848, the Liberator included an item telling of attempts in Philadelphia to raise money for the North Star , so that its circulation might be extended.  The article hoped that there might be at least 1000 subscribers to the North Star.  In the same fall, the Liberator included items which noted the leadership of Douglass at a National Convention of Colored People, and of an article by Douglass, on Northern complicity.

In January, 1849, the Liberator noted the completion of the first volume of the North Star. The article included a plea from Douglass for subscriptions, with an appeal that failure of the paper “would only feed the prejudices of those who feel that colored people cannot successfully run such an enterprise.”  Garrison commented: “Shame on the free colored population of the United States, that they do not liberally patronize the Star.”

When a split came between Douglass and Henry Highland Garnet, that was acknowledged by inclusion in the Liberator of an article by Douglass in the North Star. Douglass  claimed that Garnet’s “course here has been that of an enemy”, and expects that Garnet will continue to “slander and misrepresent us” as he goes to England.  Douglass professed that he would welcome open hostility rather than disguised agreement.

The famed 1850 occasion when Douglass and other abolitionists were not allowed to speak at Faneuil Hall  is included in the Liberator, noting that when the lights were lowered, the abolitionists escaped under cover of darkness.

When the North Star announced that it would soon issue a new weekly paper bearing the title “Frederick Douglass Paper”, it was included in a June 20, 1851 Liberator. Shortly after that announcement, Garrison indicated that he preferred the old title. (Liberator, July 4, 1851).  In the same issue Garrison commended Douglass, who “needs no praise of ours, as to his ability as a writer and an orator.”  Garrison then wrote about Douglass’s changed views in regard to the Constitution.  It is clear that Garrison, in criticism of those new views does not intend to impugn motives but only Douglass’s “soundness and vitality of position”.  Garrison, in the same item, then referred to a statement by Douglass in which he claimed that while he does not receive compensation as an editor, all the others who are white do receive compensation.  Garrison called this “an unkind fling”.  Garrison then concluded the article with a strong statement of admiration for Douglass, with “confidence in his wish and determination to do all that in him lies for the speedy abolition of slavery, that we have felt from the beginning.”

The Liberator included items in the next years which followed Douglass’s connections with the Free Soil effort, and with continuing National Colored Convention appearances.  In September, 1853, there was a letter in the Liberator, from William Cooper Nell, in which Nell included a letter to Douglass.  In that letter Nell claimed that Douglass had, at a recent meeting in Boston “misrepresented my sayings and doings”.  Nell’s letter indicated that, in that meeting, he intended neither to “defend Garrison , or to offend Douglass”.    Readers may want to spend considerable more time in pondering the meaning of this exchange!

A December 2, 1853, article in the Liberator, included a letter from Anna Douglass, which bears attention in the light of the controversies history has given to this relationship.

Two weeks later, the Liberator of December 16th contains an article which readers are advised to read.  The article is titled, “The Mask Entirely Removed”, and is signed by “N.B.”.  The lack of further identification of the writer makes it impossible to determine what it might reveal about the relationship between the two men.  The language is harsh at times, and criticizes Douglass for a presumption that the color of his skin vindicates a superior fidelity to the abolitionist cause. The article remonstrated that Douglass had been critical of Remond, Nell, and Oliver Johnson, and concluded with a promise that an article from Douglass’s paper, which he has complained has not been included in the Liberator, will be printed in the next edition.

The second annual meeting of the Garrison Association, held at the Belknap Street Church, is reported in a January, 1854, edition of the Liberator.  It quoted the group purpose as being to “annually testify the love and affection we cherish for the Pioneer, and unflinching Advocate of Immediate Emancipation”.  In response to speakers of the evening, Garrison affirmed his central commitments.  He also alluded to the alienation between himself and Douglass.  His remarks indicated that he had no desire to bias any minds about the controversy, but said each “must read and decide for themselves.”

Another article from the Frederick Douglass Paper is reported in the Liberator in the same month. The page included items from five other papers, all of which seem to have exploited the controversy between the two men. Douglass indicated in the article that there was better work to do than to keep  up the controversy. Garrison’s response included a challenge to Douglass to “a quote a single line from the Liberator condemning him for anything but his aspersions of those who have been his best friends, and to whom he is eternally indebted for his emerging from obscurity.”

Then in December of 1854 the Liberator published a letter from Laura S. Holland, which had been in the Frederick Douglass’s Paper.  The content of the letter told of the severe treatment of Calvin Fairbanks at the hands of Kentucky authorities.

In early 1855 a peculiar letter from Philadelphia appeared in an edition of the Liberator. Its writer claimed that Douglass had been sowing seeds of further discord by his accusations against Garrison.  Garrison’s pointed response indicated that he was sure that the disaffected to “our cause”, in that city, “are a mere fraction”.

After the John Brown attack on Harper’s Ferry, and Douglass’s subsequent trip to England, public discussion often assumed that Douglass’s trip was motivated by a desire to avoid arrest because of his associations with Brown.  In a letter from Douglass, published in the November 11, 1859 edition of the Liberator, Douglass belied that he ever intended any direct participation at Harper’s Ferry, and that the incident, rather than hastening, did, in fact delay his trip to England.

Douglass’s support for Lincoln was included in the September 23, 1864 Liberator.  In it Douglass indicated some of the reasons for his earlier criticisms of Lincoln, and withdrawal of support. He wrote that circumstances had changed , and that he urged ” every man who wishes well to the slave and to the country should at once rally  with all the warmth and earnestness of his nature to the support of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson…”

Two late instances when Douglass is the subject of an article in the Liberator, came in May, 1865, including a speech by Douglass at Faneuil Hall, upon the fall of Richmond, and the in October of the same year, when there was news of the establishment by the colored people of Baltimore of the Douglass Institute, and announcement of his formal opening.  The Institute was dedicated to the “intellectual advancement of the colored portion of the community.”

Source: the source of items included here can be viewed at the website, under the category of Douglass, Frederick.

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